A $38 radio license sent Joe Mann into a 30-year career in broadcasting.
Since 1991, he’s worked behind the scenes on newscasts, pledge drives, weekly public television programs, radio shows, symphonies, parades and a host of other productions. Mann, who grew up in Hoyt Lakes, has rubbed elbows with celebrities and news anchors for decades.
On Nov. 13, Mann will be one of five people named to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences-Upper Midwest Chapter’s Silver Circle. The honor is bestowed upon individuals who have made a significant contribution to television above and beyond what their job required — silver for 25 years, gold for 50. Only a handful of Twin Ports broadcast personalities have earned the distinction since the first award was handed out in 2000. They include Silver Circle honorees Barbara Reyelts, Michelle Lee and Dave Jensch, and Gold Circle honoree Dennis Anderson.
Mann likened the recognition to receiving an Olympic medal.
“This is a huge honor, and I am just so excited for Joe. If anybody deserves it, it’s Joe,” said Dawn Mikkelson, broadcast content manager for public television station WDSE-WRPT-TV, where Mann has worked for 24 years.
The Iron Range native brings dedication, versatility and passion to the job, as well as a wealth of experience.
“Joe is an outstanding employee, and he’s just so dedicated. He has such a good attitude, he’s so dependable and simultaneously holds the history of a lot of the broadcast history of our market,” Mikkelson said. “To have someone like Joe at our station is priceless, really.”
A local history buff, Mann also works at Superior Public Museums and the Douglas County Historical Society.
"It is wonderful they are recognizing Joe with this award. Often those working behind the scenes are only known to those in front of the camera," said Jon Winter, business manager of the historical society.
After 30 years, Mann said he still enjoys the career he chose.
The people he meets and the immediate nature of the job keep it fresh, he said.
“It’s always a new experience," he said.
Although there is a lot of turnover in the broadcasting world, public television has been a good fit for the Twin Ports historian.
Mann got the $38 license in September of 1991 while pursuing a broadcast degree at Duluth Technical College. He started broadcasting at WEBC radio during college, but had to leave the Twin Ports area after graduating to find a cameraman job. He worked as a videographer for Ole Zupetz’s “Weekly Edition” show out of Virginia, Minnesota, then in 1993 moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he was a cameraman for KSFY, then KDLT-TV.
Back in the Duluth area, Mann stepped into a cameraman job at WDSE-WRPT in 1996 and has been there ever since. His face may not be familiar, but “Almanac North” viewers will know him as the man gesturing to Dennis Anderson and Julie Zenner in the long shot at the end of the show.
“Joe’s primary roles are running the camera and floor directing, that’s where he shines,” Mikkelson said.
Mann also worked behind the scenes as master controller at KNLD, the small independent station that would become FOX-21, then as cameraman for FOX from 2011-2015. He’s worked in public access TV and donned mascot suits for local radio stations, including Buzz the bee and DJ the penguin. He also served six years as board operator at WEBC 520 talk radio.
The cameraman has kept a running record of his own career in photos, news articles and items like station T-shirts. He also has a trove of PBS-related memorabilia, from a Bob Ross bobblehead to a replica of the Downton Abbey castle. He’s worked with Red Green, Shari Lewis, Maria Bamford, mayors from Duluth and Superior, area news anchors and local celebrities like Gold Circle Honoree Dennis Anderson
“Denny, he told me the other day ‘Let’s work on your 50th,’” Mann said.
Some of the most memorable moments for Mann were when Twin Ports broadcast stations banded together to weather the damage caused by the 2012 floods. WDSE-WRPT opened its studio up to KBJR-TV following a fire and the steep learning curve when the area moved to digital, which added three channels to WDSE-WRPT.
The Duluth man is comfortable behind the camera, whether it’s taking video or photographs. Two of his photos were featured in the WDSE-WRPT documentary “Lost Superior,” and he continues to capture Superior events on camera, including the Oct. 7 groundbreaking of the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, to document them.
When it came to pointing the lens at himself for an acceptance speech, however, Mann was nervous. The one-minute speech will be aired during the virtual Upper Midwest Gold and Silver Circle Honors Show at 7 p.m. Nov. 13.
“He did in front of the camera really well. Having been behind the camera for so many years, it was fun to see him on the other side,” Mikkelson said.
This story was updated at 8:10 a.m. Oct. 13, 2020 with additional information clarifying Joe Mann's educational background. It was originally posted at 6 a.m. Oct. 13, 2020.